Depression Is Like “Thought Cancer”

Slowly — too slowly — our culture is beginning to understand that depression isn’t just one person feeling blue because their life sucks. It’s a health issue with causes and effects that can be treated and ameliorated. The human brain is, by far, the most complex, complicated organ in our bodies. It’s also the organ we understand the least. Inside our skulls, 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) [are] interconnected by trillions of connections, called synapses. On average, each connection transmits about one signal per second. Some specialized connections send up to 1,000 signals per second. Our synapses work like digital circuits; they’re either open or closed. If they’re open, electrical currents can travel across them — and information moves right along with the current. “Somehow… that’s producing thought,” says Charles Jennings, director of neurotechnology at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research. As ethereal as our thoughts feel, they probably have a physical form — some kind of encoding sequence “burned into” storage areas of our brains. These storage areas — dispersed across our grey matter — link up as we think associatively — connecting immediate stimuli to memories of similar stimuli.

In a happy world where only happy thoughts filtered into our brains, our brains would (one hopes) process only happiness and happiness is all we’d feel and “know”. Alas, Life doesn’t work that way. Even getting through a morning can produce the full gamut of thought possibilities. Some Life experiences leave behind more than just their physical imprint on our neural networks They leave behind darkness. Depression.

If happy thoughts produce lightness in our heads, depression produces its opposite. And, mind you, just like with cancer, there’s more than one kind of depression. Not all darkness is created equal. What Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” can leave scars on our bodies and in our minds. I was sexually assaulted twice when I was fourteen by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged outside of Baltimore. The second instance was especially harmful because (having kept the secret that first time), I believed I was therefore responsible for there being a second time. Somehow, this information imprinted deeply into my brain — not just that it happened but that it happened for a complicated reason for which I was responsible. That’s a lot of abstraction spread across various parts of my brain. But, that abstraction became my darkness — and that darkness haunted me even though I denied its existence.

When does a terrible incident transition into depression inside our brains? What causes that depression to “metastasize” from “sad thoughts” into increasingly self-destructive behavior? I treated this memory of being sexually assaulted like a secret only I (and my attacker) would or could know. That’s why there was a second time, remember? Despite being sexually assaulted once, I said nothing, told no one. That must have been the case — from my attacker’s point of view — since he still had a job and wasn’t in jail. As I walked in the door that second time, he knew he was safe — and knew he could do it again. So, he did.

This particular memory — this collection of information plus perspective plus all other associations connected to it — behaved exactly like a slow-moving cancer. Plenty of other bad memories become “cancerous” in that they interfere with your life in potentially fatal ways. Just like our immune system regularly deals with low level cancers all the time, our brains find ways of, if not healing the cancerous thoughts, at least containing them and the damage done. Talk therapy went a long way toward mitigating a lot of the depression caused by my sexual assault. Unfortunately, until I dealt with that cancer directly, I was never going to put my cancer into remission.

In my case, this “thought cancer” destroyed my ability to relate to other people with confidence. It’s not that I didn’t or couldn’t trust them, it’s that I had a secret that they could never know — and if they didn’t know that secret about me, they couldn’t possibly know “me”. This put me on an emotional island I didn’t even know I was on. I had friends but never close friends; that is, they felt closeness to me that I couldn’t feel toward them because, down deep, I couldn’t understand why they’d want to BE my friend when, the dark, dirty truth was, I was undeserving of anyone’s friendship. Because of what I did.

Three days before Christmas 2016 — my cancer suddenly metastasizing at an even more alarming rate — I came within literal inches of killing myself. My darkness, my thought cancer, had blocked out all perspective. I had become convinced that my family and friends — my community — would go on same as it was just fine without me. That would not have been the case at all, certainly not with my wife and kids. But, that’s the insidious thing about “thought cancer”. Like a tumor does, depression becomes part of the architecture. The body starts feeding it blood — like it belonged there. The tumor’s essence flows into you and, like a virus, sets about turning you into it.

In my case, I convinced myself that because I’d been sexually assaulted, I deserved every other rotten thing that happened. Including death. Talk about bullshit.

My path out of the darkness and back up into reality began with talk therapy. Acknowledging the need for help was essential to both getting help and being helped. But, I was still keeping that secret from myself — literally denying that such a thing had ever happened to me. I needed even more help — that was my suicide attempt. I had feared mood stabilizers because of the reasons above: we have a “guestimate” understanding of how our brains work but an even bigger gap in understanding how exactly these drugs work in our individual brains. I grew up in a medical family; my dad was a surgeon. I know the culture. I know that my GP doesn’t have a background in these meds — not their fault. Most likely, they’d prescribe whatever the last Big Pharma rep left behind last time she visited and handed out samples. I wanted to deal with my depression while leaving my hypomania alone mostly (that’s where my creativity resides — I’m bi-polar too) and had found lamotrigine (lamictil). The anecdotal information available while I was Googling back in 2014 and 2015 was scant compared to now. At higher doses (I’ve since researched), lamotrigine can impact one’s hypomania. But, I got lucky.

Boy, did I get lucky. Immediately after my attempt — knowing I needed more help than just talk therapy — I drove straight to my GP and told them everything. I told them what happened — but not why because I didn’t know that yet. I told them I’d researched lamotrigine. My GP (and the head doctor — I got a lot of attention) whipped out their smart phones to look it up for themselves. By that point, they’d asked me three times if perhaps I should be hospitalized. I assured them that if trying medication didn’t help then, yes — I’d agree to be hospitalized. They wrote the script.

I went hope, told my family what I was planning — they signed off on it (they were even more desperate than I was that I get help) and I took my first 25 milligram dose. That’s when luck really kicked in. Within 36 hours at that minimal dose, I levelled. I literally felt the darkness lose its power to control me.

My rage was explosive back then. Though usually self-directed, my rage could just as easily be pointed at something stupid I heard on the radio or LA traffic. I don’t remember what set it off that time but the rage erupted in my gut and began to funnel upward with increasing velocity. I was quite prepared for it to hit my throat and — per usual — explode out of me in waves of angry, vituperative spew. But, this time, just as the rage went to explode, instead, it dissipated like a soap bubble popping. I knew I had felt this incredible anger but, just when I expected to really FEEL it? Nada. It was gone except for the (already) fading memory of it.

This was liberating! After the exact same thing happened again several hours later, I understood exactly how the mood stabilizer was stabilizing my moods.

With my depression no longer in charge — no longer able to derail me and my emotions, I could begin the real process of healing. In my case, I could begin to address the eight thousand kiloton gorilla sitting on my chest: my secret.

Long story short: I did confront my secret and confronting it hurt like a mofo. But, confronting that secret — talking about it finally — took away literally all its power over me. Writing about it was even more healing.

I haven’t removed my darkness, I’ve disempowered it. It still lurks within and it knows the power it has over me. If this was “cancer” cancer, I’d change my diet to keep it at bay or alter my lifestyle as necessary. Thought cancer requires the same pro-active measures.

I don’t think for two seconds that I’ve “beaten” this thought cancer. I’ve just figured out how to live with it — and find happiness while living with it. That’s the good news on the subject: there is hope. Lots and lots of it.

Anthony Bourdain’s Passing – Three Years Ago Today – Reminds Us How Important Our Mental Health Is

Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. I was at the deepest point in a decade-long depression. I got lucky in the aftermath. I got well. But, even as I finally got my depression under control — the mood stabilizer I take moderates my emotions which allowed me to get to the root cause of my depression (I’d kept a secret from myself that I was sexually molested twice when I was fourteen by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged) — I understood that my darkness, though being kept at bay, always knew how to get to me. I feel a certain perverse kinship with others driven to such despair. The arguments inside their heads might not be the same as mine in their details, but thematically — we all sang the same song of self-loathing. Our darkness is wrong. It’s lying to us. It doesn’t care that our demise will be its demise. But then, no one ever said depression knew what it was doing.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide came out of the blue for those of us outside his immediate sphere. I’m sure those closer had a different perspective. His past struggles aside, he was in the middle of shooting an episode for his CNN series when his darkness reached up from deep inside him and took him. That’s some potent darkness. It convinced a person that talented, that loved by other people, that on top of his game that he didn’t belong here anymore. You have to take that kind of persuasion seriously. Only Anthony Bourdain knew his demons the way he knew them. That’s true for all of us. But, we have to hold one essential fact about our demons above all others — whoever we are: our demons lie. Anthony Bourdain’s demons lied to him.

It’s just a stone cold fact: life is hard and living it is filled with hardships and pain. There is beauty, too. And joy. And bliss. I know this to be so because I now walk around in a state of perpetual bliss. Oh, I’m keenly aware of how dire our situation is. Read my blog? What makes my life blissful is knowing that I’ve freed myself from bullshit’s shackles. I call this blog “How To Live Bullshit Free” because that really is my mission in life. I do not want to live another moment in bullshit’s thrall. Other peoples’ bullshit is off limits to me. I only can worry about mine — because I’m really the only person who can call me out on it. Sure, other people can do it but, if you’re like me (and you are), you completely ignore when other people call you out on your bullshit.

There’s no one way to keep one’s demons at bay. Talking about them helps a lot. Medication can help — it can put “breathing room” between you and your emotions. Sometimes, that’s all one needs to begin healing. In my case, medication gave me the chance to confront a terrible truth I’d been denying. But that truth explained a lot of what happened to me — in particular why my bullshit had such a hold on me. Confronting what happened to me when I was fourteen was hard but I was never going to be happy unless I confronted it and stopped holding myself responsible for what an out of control adult did to me.

In the end (long story short), I came to understand Yehuda — my molester. I don’t forgive him. I will never do that. But I now see what he did in its proper context. Perspective. That’s the game changer. Gain it and you get healthier. Lose it and the opposite happens. It hurts when anybody leaves here before their time. It hurts a little bit more when super talented people go ahead of time. They still owed us the full benefit of their being here.

That’s how I feel about Anthony Bourdain. We had not yet gained the full benefit of his being here. We all got cheated. That’s why it’s incumbent on every one of us to live the fullest lives we can. It’s the only shot at cosmic revenge we’ll ever get. Sure, it’s good to live a long life (so long as you’re healthy), but it’s even better to live a rewarding life filled with purpose and passion.

Alcohol On Airplanes Was NEVER A Good Idea Actually; Now, Cannabis, On The Other Hand…

On May 29, American Airlines joined Southwest Airlines in suspending alcohol sales on their aircraft. Southwest did it because its passengers were becoming increasingly abusive over mask issues and when those abusive passengers started drinking… . We live in alcohol culture’s thrall the same way we used to live in Big Tobacco’s thrall. It wasn’t that long ago that people smoked on airplanes. There were “smoking sections” and “non-smoking sections” (as if the smoke could read the damned signs). In retrospect, it sounds even stupider. The non-smokers were lucky to get that — a row or two where the smoke wasn’t directly in their faces and eyes and all over their clothes. I’ve never gotten tobacco’s appeal. It eludes me completely but I appreciate how addictive nicotine is. Addiction will cause the addict to use any justification they can think of no matter how silly. The sky was blue that day so I “had to”. Looking back at old movies, I’m always amazed by who smoked and where and when. Everyone did — and everywhere. Smoking was ubiquitous. Kinda like how drinking is now.

Until I started taking a mood stabilizer to deal with a massive depression, I drank every single day of my life. I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic. But, I drank every day of my life. Kinda like an alcoholic. See how I lied to myself? That’s what alcohol does. It encourages you to lie to yourself. Alcohol does not improve anyone’s decision-making just as it doesn’t improve their motor skills. My mood stabilizer gave all alcohol an unpleasant. grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that simply made it unpalatable. Just like that, I stopped drinking. Fortunately, I had cannabis to fall back on — and we all need something to fall back on.

When you no longer drink, you get cut off from a big piece of American culture. A lot of our socializing is built around drinking alcohol together. That’s been the case for a long, long time. I have experienced more exquisite, alcohol-fueled conversations than I can count that rambled from cocktails to red wine to grappa or desert wine or scotch over the course of many, many hours. I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

Or, would I…?

It used to be habit when I traveled long haul (from LA to the East Coast or out of the country) to anticipate certain alcohol moments: the bloody Mary at the departure lounge bar, the bloody Mary on the airplane followed by the little bottle of crap red wine on the plane followed by whatever liqueur miniatures they might have. The goal was to pass out and sleep as much as one could so as to awaken “fresh” on the other side. I don’t think in my entire life that ever happened — where I drank and drank — then slept — then awoke more focused than a Tiger Mom. That includes the many trips I got to make flying First Class for business. Getting liquored up is even more fun when flying up front where the alcohol is served in actual glass.

The reason I never arrived anywhere in the best shape I could be in was because I drank before and during those flights. I arrived everywhere dehydrated. Dehydrated brains don’t think nearly as well as hydrated brains. In fact, dehydrated bodies don’t do anything better than hydrated bodies. Both flying and alcohol dehydrate you. To do them together is — every which way you look at it — counter-intuitive. It’s not even that the alcohol one drinks on an airplane is great, craft alcohol. So many things are interfering with your ability to accurately taste or smell anything — there just wouldn’t be any point to it. I say that as someone who loved alcohol — and the craft that went into making it.

Using cannabis, for the record, does not dehydrate you like alcohol does. THC works very differently in our brains and on our brain chemistry than alcohol does. In fact, alcohol’s impact and THC’s impact bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever. THC does not diminish one’s motor skills. It just doesn’t. Does it impact your motor skills? Absolutely! It improves them. Now, I can only speak for myself (though other cannabis users will tell you the exact same thing): when I use sativa strains like Durban Poison (instead of, say, indicas like Northern Lights), my motor skills improve appreciably. I use Durban Poison when I play tennis.

Within about a minute or two of smoking a little Durban Poison on the tennis court, I feel my mind slowing down — not in a foggy way but, rather, in a calm way. If I allow myself the opportunity, I can see the spin on the tennis ball coming at me. I can see its fuzz even. My timing improves. My ability to see the ball coming off my opponent’s racket improves as does my ability to track the ball to the exact place where I need to be — attacking that ball — if I want to win the point we’re playing. With Durban Poison in my brain, I become very coachable. I see the mistakes I’m making and grasp the adjustments needed. Now, I’m not a pro athlete. And I’m in my 60”s so I don’t have the energy I had when I was 25 and I do tire a little more quickly. Aside from that? I’m playing far better now than I have in my life.

Part of that is because I’m no longer depressed — thanks to the mood stabilizer. It’s also thanks to the cannabis.

Being depressed and drinking alcohol is a terrible, fraught, perilous combination. Alcohol cannot improve your depression. “In vino veritas”? No, in vino whatever’s in your head right this second. The veritas part is highly debatable. I know for a fact — my wife told me all about it afterwards — that on multiple occasions, liquored to my gills — I went on a tirade that killed a social evening. I couldn’t even tell ;you what “veritas” I was spewing at the time. That doesn’t speak well for it.

While my mood stabilizer has successfully dealt with my depression, I’ve used THC to handle the other part of my bi-polarity, my hypomania.

The inside of my head feels like a “black box theater” (a non-traditional theater space that can be converted into virtually anything with audience and performers virtually anywhere within that space). At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, flor and ceiling. Lasers of various colors blast this way and that. Holographs come and go amid the music and movie sound tracks and running Marx Brothers routines. It’s exquisite chaos. But, trying to work with all that going on can be challenging even to an experienced hypomaniac. Cannabis, again, works wonders. And, again, Durban Poison epitomizes what cannabis can and does do for me. All cannabis has the effect of dropping scrims in front of most of that sound and fury. Sativa, hybrid or indica, cannabis has the effect of bringing a pervasive sense of calm and control. While indicas will slowly develop a feeling of sleepiness, sativas will (more quickly) evoke a feeling of mental focus. In the midst of the calm, I see more, hear more, taste more. And I think more.

Our thoughts occur as electricity moves from synapse to synapse inside our brains. Our synapses operate a lot like digital circuits: they’re either open or closed. THC causes more of our digital circuitry to be “open”. We process more information, more input, more thought. That’s why food tastes so good when you’re “high”. You literally are tasting the food more. That’s my music sounds soooooo good when you’ve got THC in you. That’s why things seem funnier. In a way, you’re seeing how much funnier things really are. It’s also why some people get paranoid on strong pot: they, too, are processing more information. They’re thinking more deeply about it all, too. That crush of information can create feelings of paranoia.

Is cannabis right for everyone? Hell no! But then, neither is alcohol.

No one gets violent on marijuana. That was the most perverse part of “reefer madness” — it portrayed cannabis users in exactly the opposite way that cannabis was causing them to feel or act. It was screamingly uninformed.

If, for example, they stopped serving beer at sporting events and, instead, served cannabis, no one would erupt in violence at the end of a soccer match or football game. Rather, people would be hugging or high-fiving each other, saying “great game, dude!” Some (in the stands) would probably be asleep — not drunk off their asses, just asleep. Easily roused and sent on their way, too.

Out in the streets beyond the sports stadium? No one would burn a storefront or overturn a car. They’d be too mellow — because that’s what cannabis does.

Now, imagine for a second, that we let people (or, better, ENCOURAGED people) to use cannabis. Its understood we can’t have people smoking their dope at the airport. That means we’ll have to get much better at dosing ourselves with edibles. But that ain’t rocket science, is it?

I’ve flown stoned. It’s wonderful. You put in your ear buds, crank up the tunes and nothing bothers you. You’re entirely compliant (going along to get along) and happy as can be when the plane finally lands and you get to move on with your life. It’s a pleasure, actually — and no one knows you’re doing it. Unless someone uses too much of an edible, it’s pretty hard to overdose on pot. You certainly can’t poison yourself as you can with alcohol.

No college students ever die from a hazing incident where they got too stoned and fell asleep.

No one on an airplane (and, trust me, I’m not the only one flying with loads of THC in me) has ever gotten rowdy because they had THC in them.

They got to their destination and got on with their lives. Had they been drinking the whole flight? They would have done the same thing — but, oh, the headache that would have accompanied it.

Why Do I Call This Blog What I Call It? Because Bullsh*t Nearly Killed Me, That’s Why!

Devout atheist that I am, I consider myself “born again’. I have seen with my own eyes the havoc bullshit can cause in both my daily life and over the whole length of it. I bear witness to bullshit’s remarkable power to convince us that it is truth and truth is bullshit. Actually, bullshit’s much more clever than that. Bullshit convinces us that our feelings are more valid than facts. That empirical truth does not exist outside our own heads, making it as fluid as our thoughts. If we think something’s so, it is so, no receipts required. . Bullshit tells us that Life is how it is and people are how they are and there’s nothing we can do to change it — that the cynicism tugging at us is correct. Paired with an angry, confused, judgmental deity, that cynicism can turn deadly. Happiness, we become convinced (by bullshit) is a matter of how we navigate our way around our bullshit and everyone else’s. In bullshit’s defense, bullshit has that half-right. The trick to living life with even a modicum of success or happiness is to focus on your own bullshit FIRST before worrying about anyone else’s. If your experience is anything like mine, dealing with your own bullshit will be a full-time job; you will literally NEVER have time to even think of anyone else’s.

My own personal bullshit had me convinced I could disappear from Life without causing my family excessive harm — that money would eventually assuage the “bad feelings”. Talk about bullshit. But, bullshit won the argument. Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. A decade-long depression got triggered by Trump’s seizing the presidency (he did not “win” it legitimately) into full-on self-destruction. The thing about depression is, it robs you of perspective. The deeper the depression, the less perspective you have; I had come to believe that the world was the narrow, future-less tunnel I saw it as. It wasn’t, of course. It never was. And, as my personal darkness drove me toward increasingly irrational action, I did it having denied for 45 years that at age fourteen, I was sexually molested twice by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged.

I had gotten it into my head that me getting sexually molested was MY FAULT. It wasn’t, of course. That was bullshit!

Long story short, being molested put me on an island because only my molester and I knew that secret about us. Anyone else? Nope! That meant (in the irrational reasoning of my young mind) that if you didn’t know this about me, you didn’t know “me”. Since I wasn’t sharing my secret (and my molester definitely wasn’t), no one was ever going to really know me. No one. And, as you sit there, on that island, you slowly begin to blame yourself for being there. And every terrible thing that happens to you? Well, hell — that’s YOUR fault, stupid! I can only speak for and from my own experience. Once you’ve opened the door to self-loathing, it’s a hard, HARD door to shut. What makes it so hard? It’s bullshit that’s fighting you every time you try to close it.

When I first realized how close I had come to hurting myself because bullshit told me to, I literally laughed out loud. “Ya dumb sonofabitch,” I said to myself, “You came within inches of bullshitting yourself to death!” Could anything possibly be stupider?

Yeah — bullshit can kill. It kills. I still think a lot about Anthony Bourdain. The guy was at the top of his game but his darkness got him anyway. Anthony Bourdain’s bullshit won out over Anthony Bourdain. That’s no knock on Anthony Bourdain. That, in essence, is a respectful tribute to the strength of Mr. Bourdain’s bullshit — it convinced him he didn’t need to be here anymore while literally everyone else on the planet saw it differently.

We just lived through four years where bullshit ran amok. Hell, bullshit convinced us that a president who bullshitted us every damned day was “how it was”. Talk about bullshit!

I knew my darkness had me in its thrall but I feared medication. My dad was a surgeon; I grew up in the medical culture; I don’t see doctors demagogically. My dad saw what he did as equal parts science and guess work. He saw the insurance companies as greedy gate keepers with hospitals as their equally greedy collaborators. The Hypocritic Oath doesn’t mention profit incentive anywhere. While I had a GP I liked and trusted, I knew however that they had little to no background in mood stabilizers and how to prescribe them correctly. Probably the only mood stabilizer they even knew about was the one a pharmaceutical rep left behind on her last customer service visit to the office. “Hey,” the Pharmaceutical Rep said as she set the samples down on the counter, “If you have any patients complaining of depression, try these!”

The problem with this class of drug is it takes time to reveal whether or not it’s working. Since everyone’s brain chemistry is different, it’s hard to accurately predict what any one mood stabilizer will do to or for any one person contemplating it. Normally, it takes six to eight weeks to get an inkling of whether it’s working or not. It’s entirely possible that the mood stabilizer could take a bad situation and make it worse. As Screenwriting God William Goldman said of the film business, “No one knows anything”. FFS, we do not even know how we’re all doing this — writing blogs, reading blogs, having conversations — having thoughts themselves. We don’t know where our memories come from — yeah, sure — we know what part of the brain they seem to emanate from. But we don’t know how they convert from lived experience to remembered experience.

And we have to consider THAT in the context of teenage boys who seem to walk around with zero remembered experience. But, I digress…

After seeing quite clearly that in a moment of sheer irrationality I now had it in me to commit to that irrationality completely, I drove straight to my GP’s office and told them what had just happened. I immediately got great service. Just like that, I was sitting with not just my GP but the head honcho doctor too! I told them everything. Told them my fear of medication — and why I felt as I did. But, I also told them of the research I’d been doing on my own. I’d looked into every mood stabilizer there was, looking for the one that might hold my depression at bay while leaving my hypomanic side mostly alone. I’m bipolar, ya see. I worried that if the mood stabilizer I chose dealt with the depression but made writing impossible, I’d be right back in the darkness’ thrall. I’d read anecdotal evidence (the only evidence there is) suggesting lamotrigine could be my answer.

Immediately, my GP and his boss whipped out their smart phones and looked up lamotrigine. Yes, they agreed, that could definitely work for me; they agreed to write the prescription. I took it, picked up the meds from my local pharmacy, went home and told my family what I was going to do. Swallowing that first .25 milligram little white pill, I expected a long period of wondering to begin. Instead, I got lucky. Within thirty-six hours, I leveled. I felt it. I experienced my first evidence not only that the lamotrigine would definitely work for me but HOW it would work.

My anger back then was volcanic. Once triggered, it was usually a matter of seconds before the rage in my gut exploded out my mouth in a profanity-laced screed. Anything could set me off: a stupid political argument I heard on the radio, other drivers, me if I dropped something (and bigger still if it broke). I don’t remember specifically what sparked the rage in my gut, only that it sparked — and, once sparked, it flowed back on itself like a blocked toilet. I felt the rage rising in me like it always did, picking up speed as it blew past my stomach, racing upward toward my mouth. And just as I fully expected that metastasizing anger to metamorphose into a lava spew — “Paf!” — the rage dissipated like a soap bubble popping.

I knew I had just felt the rage — felt its hold on me — and just like that — I knew I had felt the rage in the abstract but I did not feel it in any practical way that I could point at. It really was kind of like the anger “never was”.

Realizing that my darkness could no longer dominate me liberated me. In time — a few months — it even gave me the confidence (that’s the biggest, best benefit of perspective — it builds your confidence) to go at it head on. Now, able to confront my demon without that demon destroying me, I confessed my own truth to myself. Yeah, the night I spent weeping quietly on the bathroom floor (because I didn’t want to wake my wife and have to explain) was long, lonely and hard. But it destroyed the bullshit chains forever.

That’s the night I was “born again” — as a person. That was the day I started living my life unencumbered by the giant piece of bullshit that, unbeknownst to me, had dominated my life.

And it felt AWESOME!

Seeing everything in context also was awesome. “Hey,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling good about things, “bullshit nearly killed you. Are there any other ways bullshit’s making your life harder than it should be?”

I bet you can guess the answer to that question. Bullshit, it turned out, was dominating virtually every aspect of my life. For starters, I hadn’t slept well in years. Financial difficulties and sleep aren’t pals. I had been using (abusing really) OTC products like Simply Sleep. They’re anti-histamines. They don’t so much produce “sleep” as “unconsciousness for a while”. You wake up in the morning — if you sleep — feeling groggy and unprepared for the day. I wanted no part of anything stronger. I was terrified of what my brain would do with Ambien in it. Bullshit had convinced me that this problem was forever. It wasn’t. I live in California. I got myself a medical marijuana prescription and from the first day I started using cannabis as a sleep aid, I’ve slept wonderfully.

With bullshit negating my sleep, I’d start each day by putting on my bullshit colored lenses while breathing deeply from bullshit scented air. Lie in for another ten minutes, I’d bullshit myself, it won’t matter (bullshit — it did!). Never mind missing this deadline — they’ll be cool with it (they weren’t!). Ignore the warning signs that your marriage is struggling; those problems can wait till later (no, they can’t). Everything bad happening to me is my fault. No, it isn’t — but, then, it isn’t everyone else’s fault either. The world is more complicated than that: take off the bullshit-colored lenses and SEE IT.

That’s why I started this blog. I’m learning as I go and sharing my notes. Is living bullshit free for everyone? I have no idea — that’s someone else’s bullshit to worry about. That’s not to say that if another person’s bullshit gets them in trouble that I have zero obligation to them. That’s bullshit too. If I have to put my own bullshit aside to help them because of their bullshit — that’s what I must do. In the aftermath, I can only hope that, with this newfound perspective, that person, too, will have discovered bullshit’s hold on them and, like me, will want to break that hold.

We live in a new cycle where the Biggest Story There Is (after the worldwide Covid pandemic) is “The Big Lie”. To call it what it really is, it’s bullshit. One of our two political parties (and its mob boss leader) is trying to shove bullshit down our collective throats.

I guess if I wanted to be a hundred percent accurate I’d call this blog “Learning How To Live Bullshit Free” since that’s what I’m really doing everyday — and writing about it here. I gotta keep reminding myself: the second I get it into my head that I “know” how to live bullshit free? The bullshit will be winning again.

Alcohol + A Pandemic = Terrible Decision-Making

I stopped drinking alcohol just over four years ago. I didn’t “have to” per se, but the mood stabilizer I started taking gives all alcohol a grapefruit skin-like aftertaste making it completely unpalatable. Given a choice between drinking and not being depressed, I’ll take the latter, thanks. And anyway — it’s not like consuming alcohol does one’s depression any favors. Alcohol might just be the worst thing for a depression. That’s why no matter how much we drink, we can’t get ourselves out of the dark, frustrating vicious circle the pandemic has us running on like hamsters on a demonic exercise wheel.

Alcohol itself isn’t our problem. Our attitude toward alcohol is. Because we treat it as a vice — like sex — we get squeamish talking about it. Oh, we’re happy to brag about our prowess or relate countless funny stories about drinking and cringeworthy results, but we dare not discuss what alcohol does to our judgment. How many drinking stories have you heard in your life where alcohol caused someone to do the right thing instead of the stupid?

Do I miss alcohol? Occasionally. I’ll be with someone who’s enjoying a glass of something so inky and dense that you can practically see its tannin structure. My mood stabilizer hasn’t hurt my ability to smell any. In a way, that makes the impact it has on my taste buds even more cruel. One of the best parts of a great wine is its long, complex aftertaste. It’s a little like knowing the great meal you’re about to eat will absolutely end with food poisoning. Really, it’s just not worth it.

Though alcohol abuse wasn’t my specific problem, it was a problem for me; I know that now. That’s part of alcohol’s hold on us. Even if you think you have a problem with alcohol, alcohol convinces you it isn’t that big of a problem. And anyway, what would you do if you couldn’t drink — or, worse, go out drinking with your friends? If you’re like most of America, apparently, you obsess over it endlessly.

Though I no longer drink alcohol, I do consume a lot of marijuana. I have a prescription. I don’t need one to purchase cannabis here in California though having one does save me some of the sales tax. That’s not why I keep my prescription active; I do that because THC is the other chemical in my mental health regimen. I use THC to moderate my hypomania (while my mood stabilizer handles the depression). As I’ve written here before, I use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end of it. I wake & bake using a variety of sativas, I chill in the early evening with hybrids and I use indicas to give me a fabulous night’s seep.

In my past, I’ve tricked myself into thinking alcohol and cocaine could add to my productivity. Talk about bullshit! Neither can do that.

As I’ve also talked about here, cannabis is completely unlike alcohol (and cocaine of course). Whereas alcohol is a depressant, cannabis isn’t. Depending on strain, THC content, terpene structure and a few other variables, a hit of THC can focus your mind even as you settle into the couch. Our brains like cannabinoids. A lot. There’s a reason musicians like Louis Armstrong self medicated with marijuana while inventing jazz in New Orleans in the early twentieth century. Alcohol dulls the senses. Opium wipes them out completely. Cannabis, on the other hand, floods your brain with information. That’s, in essence, what THC does. If you think of our synapses as digital circuits — either opened or closed — THC causes more of them to be “open”, receptive to information. The reason music feels richer, colors seem more vibrant and food tastes better on dope is because your brain is processing more of that sensory information in real time. It’s not that the food “tastes better”, it’s that THC allows you to taste the food “more”.

Among the enduring images from our pandemic hellscape is maskless people partying — bleary-eyed and shit-faced past caring. It’s like watching a tragedy take shape in slow motion. Think about how much money Big Alcohol spends on advertising to get people to do something they already like doing. Big Alcohol can’t be happy, it seems, until every single American is plastered out of their mind. If we were capable of making good decisions, the first one we’d make is to stop listening to what Big Alcohol says.

Humans are social creatures and alcohol makes us more social. One plus one equals two. But, when people keep drinking, two plus two equals four — and the next thing you know, the tipsy happiness produced by the first cocktail becomes slurred decision-making by the time cocktail number two gets consumed. Drinkers — even if they’ve been drinking all their lives — seem to forget (once they start drinking) that there’s about a twenty minute lag between the alcohol passing their lips and that specific alcohol’s impact on their brain. It’s the lag that causes most people to drink more and drink more quickly.

And get wasted more quickly.

That’s the strangest experience of all. Back before the pandemic closed bars and made parties verboten, I got to watch my wife and friends (on numerous occasions) morph over the course of a few hours from sensible, moderate people enjoying each others’ company to a bunch of happy, but loud, partiers

What scares me most about watching people drink to excess in the middle of a pandemic is my own experiences drinking. I kept drinking though I knew it was doing me way more harm than good. People who feel compelled to go out and drink socially with friends are answering a call deep inside their heads and livers. It’s hard to deny that call; I know.

But that call is the voice of bullshit. I know — I’m pissing into the wind here. We’re not going to start talking about our drinking problem just because a former drinker has seen the light. But, we should. Also, we should “teach” young people “how to drink”. I don’t mean get them drunk and teach them how to get drunk faster, I mean teach them HOW to drink like responsible people and not like teenagers on a bender.

Drinking responsibly means understanding your own bio-chemistry, your own limits. It means knowing how alcohol changes YOU and your behavior. It means telling yourself “no” a lot more than “yes”. It means owning that alcohol owns you and not you it.

I am absolutely not casting judgment. Been there, done that, guilty as charged. But, the problem with alcohol is it lies to us. It insists we can handle “one more for the road”. Even if we manage to get home safely, that was as much luck as anything else.

Look – there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with drinking. There’s plenty wrong with drinking irresponsibly. Unfortunately, ours is a culture where drinking alcohol to excess is considered both a birthright and a right of passage. But then again, we don’t attach any responsibility to being citizens (we want it to be a non-stop grab bag of goodies). Why would we attach any responsibility to something citizens do to excess?

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.

What Being Deeply Depressed Taught Me About Life — And Being Happy

Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of harming myself, perhaps fatally. It was pure impulse — a flash of self-directed anger that I’d been building toward for a decade. Oh, the irony… even as I plotted to off myself, I didn’t know (or admit to myself) WHY I felt this terrible compulsion.

In my case, I’d been keeping a secret from myself: I was sexually molested — twice — when I was 14 by the religious director at the northwest Baltimore synagogue where my family belonged while I was growing up. For 45 years, I kept that bit of personal history boxed up deep in my psyche. I always knew this “thing” was there. I simply refused to acknowledge it.

More irony — it wasn’t until after I tried to kill myself — and sought treatment — that I had the emotional strength to face the fact of what happened to me. The night I came clean with myself — to myself — was the longest, loneliest night of my life. I understood myself in a way I never had before. I understood my inability to bond with other people the way everyone else seemed to bond with each other.

I understood why I felt so much emotional distance from the world. Why I felt like I lived, by myself, on an island from which I could never escape: if you didn’t know this terrible secret about me, you couldn’t possibly “know” me. Only two people knew the secret: me and Yehuda Dickstein, the man who molested me. Perversely, I kept our secret — kinda like Yehuda knew I would. He molested me twice — so, he knew for a fact that I never told anyone about the first time.

That’s the hook on which I hung myself for 45 years — the fact that I never told anyone — and then it happened again.

Like lots of victims, I blamed myself. I couldn’t rationalize the first time. That made absolutely no sense to me. It was too surreal. But the second time — I helped manufacture it by not saying anything — convincing myself even that it couldn’t possibly have happened. Then I walked in the door to the place where Yehuda awaited me — and I instantly knew: yes, it HAD happened and it was about to happen again.

We all have varying degrees of darkness inside of us. Comes with being a sentient being with intrinsic knowledge of our vulnerabilities. When healthy, we see the world with a high degree of perspective. We understand when we’re at fault and when we’re not. But depression allows our darkness to take the wheel. The more control our darkness has, the more perspective we lose until, finally, we see everything though a vary narrow, very dark lens.

Though I had lived a very good, successful life, something inside was holding me back. My inability to bond — like a time bomb — ticked away steadily. Worse, my secret was the silent foundation for feelings of incredibly low self esteem. I believed my work was good — but I had no belief in myself whatsoever. And when things started to turn — because life has its ups and downs — I took those reversals of fortune as my due.

My secret had convinced me that I absolutely deserved everything bad that happened to me. In fact, I deserved worse. My darkness’s naked cynicism became a kind of mantra.

I knew I was in trouble. I was in therapy — and that was working up to a point.

But there was great white shark swimming just below the surface. I was afraid of medication, having read and heard more horror stories than success stories. Having grown up in the medical culture (my dad was a surgeon), I understood that the most my GP probably knew about the mood stabilizers I was asking about was whatever the last pharmaceutical rep told her as he slipped a package of samples from her briefcase.

And even if the mood stabilizer might work for me, it would be six to eight weeks before we’d have an inkling of whether it would or not — and there was the distinct possibility that this mood stabilizer would make my depression worse. Add to the mix — I wanted the medication to deal with the darkness while leaving my hypomania alone (I’m bi-polar, you see). My creativity resides in my hypomania — and the thought of losing my mojo — that sounded like a shortcut right back to suicide.

I had done research and identified a drug — lamotrigine (lamictil) that could work for me. After my near run-in with mortality, I drove straight to my doctor’s office and told them what happened. Great life hack? If you want really quick medical service, tell your health care professionals you just tried to hurt yourself.

I got not only my GP (a terrific doctor) but one of the two HEAD doctors. They got from the look in my eyes that I was deadly serious. They asked me three times if perhaps to consider hospitalization. In said no — I was there to try and help myself; but, first, they needed to write me this prescription. My two GP’s whipped out their smart phones and looked up the drug. They agreed to write the script.

Then I got really lucky — even luckier than I realized in fact.

Whereas one normally has to wait six to eight weeks to see if a mood stabilizer works or not, I leveled within 36 hours. I felt the lamotrigine’s impact: I triggered.

I can’t remember why anymore but something caused the rage that had been living rent free in my gut to ignite. I felt it rising like a lava plume rushing upward toward my head and my mouth — and just as it got there — just as I would normally speed up, lose my cool and become utterly irrational — the rage vanished — poof! — like a soap bubble popping. I knew I had felt all that rage and yet… now I felt nothing. The rage was gone before it could take flight and overwhelm me.

I’ve never taken more than the 25 milligram minimum dose since. And my depression has been kept completely at arm’s length. Here’s where the extra bit of luck kicked in. My research? It wasn’t complete. Yes, there was anecdotal data that lamotrigine wouldn’t impact my hypomania. There’s way more anecdotal data (no one’s ever tested lamotrigine as a mood stabilizer; it’s used mostly as an anti-seizure medication) that says it absolutely would impact my hypomania — at higher doses.

That bit of luck aside, the first lesson my depression taught me was that until you finally stand up to your darkness, it will own you. And it knows it.

Look — standing up to your darkness is hard. There are no easy answers here. Terrible things put you where you are emotionally. The thing about standing up to your darkness though is it requires help. To beat your darkness you must reach outside yourself. Seeking therapy is essential of course. But it’s important that you actively engage with your therapy — that you see therapy (the act of seeking help) as you being pro-active. It’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing. But the real work of getting healthy remains ahead of you.

There’s no certainty in this. We’re not talking about concrete, we’re talking about the human mind — and we don’t really understand how we even “have” thoughts. And everyone’s darkness is a little bit different — because we are all a little bit different.

The goal always is happiness. The absence of suffering and emotional pain. The goal is to be the master of your darkness and not the other way around.

I’m a “devout atheist” to my core but I know exactly what born again Christians are talking about. Being able to see my darkness in its proper perspective — understanding WHY there was that darkness to begin with and WHY it had held so much power over me — liberated me. It can’t make the memory of that event go away. It can’t undo the broken relationships and poor choices. It can’t bring back all the time I lost to being depressed and having zero faith in myself.

But I can see that period of my life for what it was. And I can see my present for what it is and, more importantly, my future for what it could be — if only I pursue it. That’s the nature of hope — of believing in a future where happiness can blossom in its fullness.

That’s the biggest lesson my depression taught me. Happiness is absolutely possible.

Since I Stopped Drinking Alcohol, I’ve Come To See Clearly — America Has A Problem With Alcohol

Want to know if Americans drink too much alcohol? Quit drinking for a day. Better yet a week — or a month. Better yet, quit drinking entirely. I wasn’t forced to quit drinking by the mood stabilizer that saved my life. Alcohol can increase the intensity of any side effects the lamictil causes but, by itself, it can’t hurt you. What I found lamictil does to alcohol is give it a terrible aftertaste that ruins the whole experience.

It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol’s in a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or in a martini — just when you expect the glorious aftertaste of whatever you’re drinking to carry on, instead you get grapefruit skin and lots of it. I was cooking clams al vongele the other day. It’s basically clams, parsley, garlic and a bottle of wine (I like to add a little celery and some Pernod to kick up the licorice qualities). I poured in the wine and Pernod — got the sauce back to a simmer and sampled it, expecting exquisiteness.

Instead, I got grapefruit skin. A bottle of wine is a bottle of wine whether it’s in your glass or simmering away in a sauce. It takes a lot longer than you think to burn off alcohol as you cook with it. I forgot that basic fact at first — then wondered why the sauce tasted so awful.

When I was growing up, my dad collected wines — French reds. He and his friends would buy Bordeaux futures — as yet unharvested (ungrown even) grapes in the expectation that they’d become great, age-worthy vintages like 1970 or 1971. When I say my dad “taught me” how to drink, I mean he taught me to appreciate the thing I was guzzling like it was bug juice at summer camp.

I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a responsible drinker — same as there’s no such thing as a responsible gun owner. 99% of the time — absolutely — most people behave responsibly toward both alcohol and guns. It only takes one slip up however to produce tragedy — one half glass of wine too many that resulted in an accident or traffic fatality or a gun that wasn’t locked up properly in its gun safe — and became a murder weapon.

In both instances, “responsible” becomes “irresponsible” just like that.

I was a lot less responsible than I gave myself credit for being. I’ve no doubt I drove while over the limit on multiple occasions. I know for a fact that I dodged a bullet or two or three where alcohol and driving are concerned. I know for a fact that I am hardly alone having that in my past. Sometimes I marvel that any of us are actually still here and walking (or driving) around.

Before lamictil made alcohol taste like shit, I LOVED drinking. I adored it. I marveled at the craftsmanship that went into a great scotch or a complex bottle of Petit Sirah (I loved em big and inky). I drank every single day — usually two glasses of red wine, sometimes a third glass. On rare occasion a fourth.

I was kinda known for getting even more opinionated than I already am. That’s a lot of “opinionated” to drunkenly throw at people. I don’t recall ever being drunk. I don’t recall ever being wasted or shit-faced or rat-arsed. But then, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t watching me.

These days, when I go to a party or a bar with my wife and/or friends, I’m the lone teetotaler. When the bartender or wait-person turns to me for my order, most of the time I don’t have one: I’ll have water, I say. Their face always betrays them. My beverage will not benefit their tip. I might as well be dead, as far as they’re concerned.

It’s strange to watch your friends as alcohol takes them over. That’s what alcohol does. It changes how people act. While making them feel good for a bit, it also undermines their motor skills and slowly destroys their capacity to make good decisions. I’ve never seen my friends get out-of-their-heads crazy from drinking. But I have seen them get loud, belligerent, unreasonable, disrespectful and downright unpleasant.

When my kids went off to college, I feared for them as they encountered the drinking cultures on their respective college campuses; I worried especially for my daughter since campus rape culture (like campus fraternity culture) is tied to campus alcohol culture. I was grateful to learn that she and her friends prefer marijuana to alcohol. No one has ever died from marijuana poisoning as they have from alcohol poisoning.

I feel almost blasphemous saying this: alcohol prohibitionists weren’t wrong. They wanted to accomplish something impossible in a free society — prohibition of a product the people want. Prohibition didn’t just make alcohol illegal, it criminalized virtually the entire population while giving organized criminals a nearly perfect product to sell. Prohibitionists used the wrong methodology though their insights were rock solid. Alcohol is far too easily abused. And alcohol abuse causes far too much long-lasting social and personal harm to too many people.

Ads for alcohol are aimed (alarmingly) toward young people. Hell, alcohol products themselves are aimed alarmingly at young people. If you have to fruit flavor alcohol up to make it palatable, maybe you aren’t really ready to drink alcohol. That may look like an umbrella in your drink, it’s not; it’s training wheels. And if you really need training wheels on your alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t ought to be drinking alcohol.

My suggestion? Pick up a gram of top quality sativa or hybrid instead (unless of course you want to go to sleep then pick up a gram or two of indica). As self-medcations go, cannabis blows alcohol clear out of the water. It’s so much more versatile (you cannot work with alcohol in your system just like you can’t drive with it or do athletic things with it because of how profoundly it impacts your motor skills).

Having switched from alcohol to cannabis, I’ve also come to see that America has a cannabis problem too. We don’t smoke anywhere near enough of it.

Notes From A Former Drinker — Drinking Culture Is Really, Really, REALLY Stupid

Perspective is the damnedest thing. For the overwhelming majority of my adult life, I was a drinker. I never thought of myself as an alcoholic though I drank at least 2 glasses of wine every day. Religiously.

I prided myself on making not merely a good martini but a great one (I still do as my wife can attest). I savored the creative output that some craftsperson spent years probably putting into whatever bottle I had just cracked. I actually pitied anyone who didn’t drink.

Oy.

Meanwhile, alcohol fed my depression. Theirs was a sick, co-dependent relationship with me caught in the middle. Toward the end, it’s not like I was drinking great stuff anyway — I couldn’t afford great stuff anymore (though I still had some pretty great stuff in my dwindling “wine cellar” including some Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and some Opus One). Even after I came within inches of killing myself, it still didn’t occur to me to look at my 2+ glasses of red wine every night as a possible co-conspirator.

I owe a small debt to lamotrigine, the mood stabilizer I now take every day to keep my darkness in check. I owe an even bigger debt to a great therapist and a smaller but not insignificant debt to cannabis — the other part of my mental health regime. There are no specific warnings about taking lamotrigine and drinking alcohol. And, at first, when I started my regimen, I continued right on pounding down my two plus glasses of red.

But then a strange thing happened. I noticed it about a week in to taking the lamotrigine (I got very, VERY lucky by the way; I leveled within 36 hours at the minimal dose, 25 milligrams). All alcohol suddenly had an aftertaste. All of it. Beer, wine, cocktails… A lovely glass of Zinfandel or Petit Sirah (I loved em big & inky) would start perfectly from the nose to the first blast of fruit on the palate then start to settle in for the aftertaste when — kapow! A flavor like grapefruit rind took over everything. And it didn’t go away quickly.

As I was already deep into cannabis, I figured “what the hell” — that would be my “cocktail” of choice from now on. Funny thing? I have not missed alcohol for two seconds. Not even one.

Now, I do take my marijuana with me. I’ve got a little traveling pouch with an unbreakable silicone pipe and three or four pre-ground flower strains (sativas and hybrids) in 10 dram glass containers. I may not go drink for drink when I go out socializing, but I’m not relying solely on my fizzy water, ginger beer or overpriced mocktail for a thrill.

For the record, I do not get high. Ever. I’m not interested in being high. To me, cannabis is for sleeping, working or relaxing. When relaxing (think strains like Cherry Pie, GSC or Bruce Banner), I want to be mellowed a bit but social. I want the warm, friendly euphoria to keep my hypomania at bay. So — even when I go to a party at someone’s house, in no way am I “keeping up” with everyone else around me who’s drinking.

Watching other people drink from a place of alcohol sobriety is almost always eye-opening. I’ve watched friends slowly get silly over the course of an evening. I’ve watched the quality of the conversations descend from heights of great repartee to meandering repetitiveness — all within an hour or two. People getting soused by the way have no idea that they’re not being witty any more.

Also remarkable — the amount of planning that has to go into drinking. I can make a few grams of my favorite strains last for a month. A bottle once cracked will probably disappear within an hour if shared. While most restaurants have liquor licenses, I have been part of dining decisions made where we overlooked a place’s inferior food because the cocktails were special. When the cocktail is the point, nothing else matters.

A group of people drinking and a group of people smoking marijuana have very little in common — even though our perception might be that they’re all self-medicating. Because of the way marijuana was demonized and falsely mythologized, we have it in our heads that marijuana and alcohol do the same things to us. That’s absolutely not the case.

I do some work occasionally for a marijuana tour company here in Los Angeles. The tours start out at a dispensary where (after lots of good, quality information about legal pot), the tour goers buy lots of marijuana. The next stop — a house (owned by the company) where the tour goers can smoke the pot they just bought. That part of the tour lasts about 45 minutes.

Then we take this dozen or so people of varying ages (all over 21 of course) to a glass blowing factory where they can see how bongs are made (it’s very cool actually). Then the tour takes them to a glass warehouse. Now — here’s where the difference between drinkers & pot smokers is most pronounced. This group of people who’ve just spent 45 minutes smoking pot walk into a glass warehouse… and nothing breaks.

Think about it — would you dare take a dozen people who’d been drinking beer for an hour into a glass warehouse? Does that sound like a good idea? Of course not — because people who’ve been drinking lose motor control whereas people who’ve been smoking marijuana GAIN motor control. Fine motor control even.

I’ve watched people I know for a FACT are “high as kites” pick up beautiful, delicate glass bongs — works of art, some of them — like surgeons doing microsurgery. Smoke a lot of strong indica and, yeah, you can get “dopey”. But — because marijuana actually makes your brain “think more” (it causes more of your synapses to open so you process more information — the reason some people feel paranoid), most users can pull out of a cannabis high and think clearly; if you really want them to think clearly, feed them a little CBD; it will mitigate the THC’s effects almost instantaneously.

And, another huge difference, though pot smokers can get loud — they do laugh a lot — they never get violent (contrary to the mythology first drug czar Harry Anslinger invented to scare white people).

Imagine if sports fans smoked pot instead of drinking beer. There would never be violence at the end of a sporting event — though there might be lots of hugging (“You played great, dude!” “But you played better — ya won!”) and a few people happily sleeping or dealing with a severe case of the munchies.

Violence wouldn’t spill from the stadium onto the city streets. That’s for damned sure.

From time to time, I do miss some of the rituals around drinking. I like the process of making a martini. I loved the theater surrounding absinthe and the way a good bottle of red opens up as the tannins oxidize over the course of an hour.

But then I tap a little Durban Poison into my regular glass piece — and, as my mind focuses and the world comes into sharp relief — I could almost forget alcohol ever existed.

Why Are We All So Addicted To Our Own Bullshit? Easy — We’re Addicted To It BECAUSE It’s “Ours”…

I almost learned the hard way how addicted I was to bullshit. My bullshit nearly killed me. For real.

Long story short, I kept a secret from myself for 45 years — that I was molested (twice) when I was 14. If I think of my hypomanic mind as a black box theater filled with projections (my thoughts), this memory sat in a file drawer in a closet in an office far at the back of the theater, up a long metal staircase. The memory glowed inside its drawer.

I always knew it was there.

That I denied this thing happened to me — that was bullshit. But it’s something that victims of sexual assault do as a survival strategy. We blame ourselves. It seems logical. And since it was our fault, we convince ourselves that we deserve every terrible thing that ever flows from it. I became so convinced this bullshit was true that I came within literal inches of killing myself.

I count myself extremely lucky. Between a magnificent therapist, a mood stabilizer (at a minimal dose) that keeps my depression caged and loads of THC to help get my hypomania focused (I highly recommend Durban Poison during the day — it delivers a smooth, even feeling of clear-headed mental energy), I get through my days with a high degree of happiness now. As I started to get healthy, I saw (to my horror) that not only had my own bullshit tried to kill me, my bullshit was undermining every other facet of my life, too.

From the moment I woke up in the morning, I was seeing the world through the bullshit color lenses I kept by my bedside and put on the instant I woke up. I breathed deeply the bullshit scented fumes rising from the piles of bullshit that I had left by my bed the night before. I thought things based on bullshit, did things based on bullshit, said things based on bullshit.

And I was shocked, shocked, I tell ya, when I got bullshit back in response.

Now, let’s be real. No one’s ever going to live 100% bullshit free. Bullshit is hardwired into our genome. Take bullshit away from us and there’d be no religion (not the worst thing that could happen to us). Take bullshit away from us and a lot of relationships would instantly metastasize and die. Take bullshit away from us and Donald Trump would be serving multiple life terms in a federal penitentiary already — alongside pretty much every single Republican.

Bullshit comes in 4 “flavors” or levels…

Level 1: Incidental Bullshit

  • Your 5 year old asks if there’s Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • It’s 6 am.  You have to get up.  You don’t want to.  “Five more minutes,” you tell yourself – you won’t be late.  Bullshit – you know damned well you’ll be late.  You do it anyway.
  • “One more spoonful of ice cream won’t matter to my diet/diabetes.”
  • “Why did you look at me funny when I took one more spoonful of ice cream?”
  •  “Have a nice day” (no matter who says it, no matter why).

Incidental Bullshit is water off a duck’s back.  Life’s just too short to get too hung up on this kind of low grade truthiness.  It’s petty mostly.  Meaningless and forgettable.  However:  This is the ‘shit’ that ‘happens’.  It just does.  What are any of us going to do about it?  Nothing.  Moving on…

Level 2: Tolerable Bullshit

  • Your 10 year old – who’s starting to figure things out – asks if there’s a Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • Your bff always brings a bottle of red wine when she comes over – except you drink white wine.  What kind of guest is that?  You could say something, but you don’t; you’ll keep the peace instead.
  • You both know damned well whose turn it is to clean the bathroom – but you do it better anyway, so…
  •  “I love you” said under duress.

Tolerable Bullshit will challenge you occasionally – is it actually tolerable?  Small doses – no problem.  More than that?   It could easily start to feel just like bullshit.

Level 3: Red Flag Warning Bullshit

  • Your 20 year old asks – for real – if there’s a Santa Claus.
  • “I don’t have a drinking problem.”
  • “My phone’s battery died.  No, really – I swear it!”

You know it in your gut – it ain’t right.  It doesn’t add up or it just plain smells.  This is the bullshit that leaves a mark – or worse.  Deal with it now – you’ll probably be okay.  Ignore the warning and this bullshit will likely morph into –

Level 4: Utter Bullshit

  • “I alone can fix it.”
  • “No collusion.”
  •  “I don’t deserve to be here”

This is the stuff that kills.  It changes lives forever.  And it’s bullshit.

Getting rid of our own bullshit is hard. You have to own it in order to get rid of it. Think of it as confession — except there’s no church. YOU are the church. YOU know where all your bodies are buried because YOU’RE the one who buried them.

Does living (or trying to live) bullshit free work? Yeah — it does. I’m so busy dealing with my own bullshit that I never have time to worry (let alone think about) anyone else’s bullshit. That means I don’t judge their bullshit anymore — they’re all as consumed & dominated by their bullshit as I am.

What do you have to lose — trying to live bullshit free — except your bullshit?